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AUGUST 12, 2009 9:16AM

Desegregation, dispensation and my daughter

Rate: 31 Flag

The house is quiet this morning, almost eerily so.  No one is fighting in the living room.  No one is clomping through the house like a drunken clog dancer.  I’m tempted to turn the TV on just for some ambient noise but I almost don’t want to spoil the stillness that surrounds me.  Today is the first day of school.  My daughter, who just turned eleven, is starting her first day of high school.  Though she’s a 4.0 student she is not Doogie Howser.  She wasn’t supposed to change schools this year.  She was supposed to remain at her elementary school until she became a freshman in high school.  Two weeks ago, after her uniforms had already been bought and the tags ripped off, our world got flipped upside-down. 

Almost a year ago, Hurricane Gustov tore through our little town with winds exceeding one hundred miles an hour.  The roof on our home couldn’t handle the force and decided to give up halfway through the storm leaving everything inside exposed to the elements.  Water got between the walls causing them to loose their integrity and crumble with the help of the powerful winds.  Everything inside was ruined.  Within days, everything that was once a vibrant color turned black with mold.  Rather than rebuild, we decided to take the insurance money and pay off the remaining balance on our home loan.  We lived in a hotel for a month, which the kids loved since it was somewhat reminiscent of the Suite Life of Zack and Cody and we had a swimming pool in our backyard.  Living in a hotel gets old after about the first week because that’s about when reality sets in and you realize that you’re really not on vacation.  We started looking for a place to rent until we found something to buy.

One street over from our old squished house we found a place that was big enough for the whole family.  The only problem with the house was that it was exactly one mile outside of my daughter’s school’s limits.  We informed the school board of our new living situation and were given special dispensation for my daughter to continue going to her school until we found a new home or rebuilt on our property.  The person in the census department assured us that we had up to two years before she would have to change schools.  I was thankful that my daughter’s life wouldn’t have to be upset anymore than it had been because of the storm.

Over the past year we have found a couple houses in the area that we liked.  We knew it would be hard to get a home loan with the way the economy is but we put an offer on one.  We put money down too.  The people we were trying to buy the house from had been trying to sell the house for almost eight months when we put the offer on it and they accepted.  We tried to get financing.  We had to extend the closing date twice.  Finally the sellers got tired of waiting and reneged on us.  Six months later that house is still for sale and we are still renting.  But, at least nothing will change, or so we thought.

Two weeks ago my daughter came home from her babysitter’s house upset.  She never really liked going to this lady’s house because the sitter’s daughter, Sarah, is mean to her.  Sarah is a year older than my daughter and likes to try to pull power trips.  Sometimes the sitter leaves Sarah in charge of my daughter while she runs to the store to get milk.  While the sitter would be gone, little bickering matches between Sarah and my daughter were inevitable.  Sarah thought that since she was in charge she could have my daughter do her chores around the house for her.  My daughter felt used.  When the sitter would get back from her milk run, the fights stopped but the sitter could tell that something had happened while she was gone.  Two weeks ago the sitter told my daughter that if she and Sarah didn’t stop fighting she would quit and spend the rest of the summer with just her family. She told my daughter that she didn’t need the money and that she was just watching her to be helpful.  When I picked her up that evening and asked how things went that day, the sitter told me things went fine.  She never mentioned that she wanted to quit.  My daughter filled me in on that.

The next day, thinking things were fine, I went to work as usual.  At about ten o’clock I got a phone call.  I pulled my phone from my pocket and looked at the caller I.D.  “School” was calling.  “How odd,” I thought to myself since school wasn’t due to start for another two weeks.  I answered the phone.  It was my daughter’s new principal calling to inform me that my daughter could no longer go to her old school because of where we lived.  I told her about our special dispensation from the school board.  The principal said it didn’t matter because someone called to report that we lived outside of the school district.  I asked who reported it.  The principal told me she wasn’t at liberty to say who called.  I gave our sitter’s name and asked if that’s who called.  The principal said, “I can’t tell you that.”  I gave another name.  The principal said no.  I said the sitter’s name again and the principal cleared her throat and said, “I can’t confirm that it was her.”  That confirmed it for me.  The sitter has a traditionally masculine name and the principal indicated that it was a woman.  I was furious.  I was shaking.  I called my husband at work and told him what had just happened.  He left work immediately to get my daughter.

When my husband got to the sitter’s house he asked her if we had done something to offend her.  She looked at him blankly and said no, everything was fine.  My husband told her that my daughter wouldn’t be coming the next day because we had some things to clear up with the school board.  “Oh,” said the sitter.  “My sister-in-law is in charge of the census at the school board.”  We were about to start fighting a losing battle.  In Louisiana it seems that if someone knows someone somewhere I’m doomed and lately it seems like everyone knows everyone else.  The cheese stands alone.

I took off work the next day so I could straighten things out with the school board so my daughter could go to her old school.  My husband decided it would be best if he went with me since he’s level headed and I’m, well, I’m a bit irrational at times.  Usually I’m really quiet so much so that sometimes I startle people with my presence when they realize I’m standing next to them.  When it comes to things like my kids, I’ll fight to the death and I don’t care who bleeds just as long as it’s not my kids.  My husband and I went to the census department since that’s where we were directed.  We explained to the woman (who was probably the sitter’s sister-in-law) our situation and told her that last year we were granted special dispensation.  She told us that the dispensation no longer mattered because the parish that we live in is going through desegregation and it would be against federal law for my daughter to go to her old school.  We tried to explain to her that my daughter was thriving in her old school.  The census lady just blinked.  We told her that we didn’t know anyone in the new school zone to watch my daughter after school.  The lady proceeds to pull out the yellow pages and looks up “daycare” in our area.  I started yelling.  “If you think that we’re so stupid that we couldn’t have done that ourselves you’ve got another thing coming to you.”  My husband grabbed my elbow and pulled me out of the room.

Our next stop was the superintendent’s office.  Again, we explained our situation.  We told the superintendent of our daughter’s excellent grades and the fact that she was in the gifted program at her old school.  “It doesn’t matter,” he said.  He told us that he could go to jail if our daughter didn’t go to the new school.  He asked us if we would be willing to go to jail for him.  We told him that our daughter wasn’t just a statistic but a child and that he was the one that just a year ago granted us the dispensation.  “I don’t care,” he said.  I asked him what we were supposed to do about after school care and he said, “That’s not my problem.”  Seriously, these are direct quotes.  My husband lost his temper.  I’ve only seen him lose his temper a handful of times and it’s not something I enjoy.  He, again, grabbed my elbow and told me that it was time for us to go.  “Now, by all means,” the superintendent smiled at us as we stormed to the door.  “When you get settled back on your property your daughter is more than welcome to come back to her old school.”  “Of course she is,” I spat over my shoulder.  “Because otherwise you’d go to jail and we wouldn’t want that now would we?”

I called the state department of education when we got home.  Amazingly enough I spoke with someone that I actually knew.  Years ago I worked in the school system and it seems that the superintendent that I worked for got promoted to the state level.  When I heard his name, I got my hopes up.  I told him my name and that I used to work for him.  He didn’t remember me.  He was nice though.  He explained that the state couldn’t do anything about the parish school districts because that was to be handled by the parish.  He said that our daughter would have to go to the new school because of the desegregation laws that have just been put into effect in our parish this year.  Forty years after they were passed this state is finally deciding to follow desegregation and my eleven-year-old daughter is going to high school.

When we told my daughter that she was going to a new school her face crumpled.  Before the tears could pour out I told her that she could still keep her old friends and that she was going to just have the availability to make a whole bunch more friends at her new school.  I made sure that she would be in the gifted program at her new school too, which was another relief to my daughter.  But still, my little girl is at high school now.  I made her promise that she would still get her good grades.  I told her to smile and relax.  I also told her that if she’s invited to prom this year, she is so not going!

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Ah crap, that sucks hardcore. Sorry this shit's happening to you and your family.

And let her go to prom!
That is really a shame. What a strange and frustrating set of circumstances. I hope she'll still be able to see her old friends. She's really young to be going to high school...Does high school include 7th and 8th grades there? Or is she actually going to be in 9th grade with 14 &15 year olds?
Jess, I'm so sorry for your daughter and for the mess your family is going through. All three of my kids went through the public school system here and we have horror stories too on how many ways stupid can be defined. It will be ok eventually for your daughter, but the stress and pain should never have occurred. I can't begin to tell you how much I admire you, and how lucky your daughter, your family, is to have you. You represent what is good and right in the world, not those that have inflicted their assholédness on you and yours.
I forgot to say, and wanted to, that apart from and in spite of the cruelty visited upon you, that this is a terrific piece of writing. Negative inspiration indicates a cost paid though.
Politics does not belong in schools yet it is so rampant. I am sorry your daughter is suffering because of some self righteous beauracrats in her district.
What a crap situation! Do you know anyone trustworthy in the old school district who would let you use their address? Of course, Daughter would have to take that bus home, and it is kind of, uh, illegal, but it's been done before.
The babysitter sounds just horrid. Bet she's also a birther. Seriously, so sorry that you guys had to go through this stress; it's petty and mean and a ridiculous example of putting rules over the best interest of children. If you were in my state, the school board would have the last say. So sorry that doesn't seem to be the case where you are.

I'm hoping for the best for you - maybe your daughter will discover some amazing new opportunities at her new school - choir, orchestra, academic decathlon, theatre, athletics - something great that's usually not available at the elementary level. Please keep writing; I'll be interested to know how all this turns out. All the best!
Aw, so sorry for your daughter and your family. That babysitter is a cunt (pardon my French). What Annette said! Maybe she'll get to take classes or pursue activities that weren't offered at her elementary school. Also, I admire you tremendously for being so brave for your daughter--I'm sure it was hard, when you felt pissed off and defeated, to stay positive for her and reassure her. Kudos to you--you sound like such an awesome mom!
Thank you guys for all of your comments and support. What I didn't put in my post (because I forgot to) was that the babysitter didn't have the balls to quit and thought it would be easier to gracefully bow out of watching my daughter during the school year if she went to a different school than her children. If she would have just come to us and quit I would have understood.

My daughter ran to the bus this morning and not because she was late. She's got a great attitude about this which is more than I could say for me at that age. She's a really strong little girl. The school that she's going to runs 5-12 so she's really going into the sixth grade and not the 9th. I'm sure prom isn't even an option for her.
I'm so sorry. That's just awful. Sounds like the babysitter is one of those "smile to your face, stab you in the back" types. Unfortunately, there is nothing to do with those types of those people except to get away from them as fast as humanly possible.

As for fixing things with the parish school board, all I can say is be persistent. Are the board members elected? Get into their campaigns. Go to their offices. Get into the parish governance -- who's the head of the parish. Get on his or her radar screen. You planned your residential life based on a dispensation that was promised to you for a two year period. That is now being revoked. Make it a matter of honoring promises. Find out how the parish works and begin working the levers to get what you want.

In the meantime, you need to decide what is most important to you, having your daughter in that school or having the optimal residential situation. Your family are the ones who have to decide what matters to you. If it's about the school, then do whatever you have to get back into the boundaries of the district. If it's about being in the right house, then you're going to have to suck it up and she'll be in high school at 11.

I wish you all the best, and whatever happens, the fact that you are clued in and there for your kids when they need you is what matters the most for their well-being.
That's the stupidest way to avoid confrontation that I've ever heard! Your babysitter acts younger than your daughter! I'm sure you're livid. I've felt that same way when dealing with people who not only won't budge, no matter how much it doesn't make sense, but seem to enjoy it. BLAH
Wow. Sorry for all your tsuris (Yiddish for real bad luck) with the house, the other house, the sitter and the school system. I think a school with grades 5-12 is weird (unless it's a small private school or Montessori) but your daughter and you sound like smart tough cookies and I have no doubt that both of you will survive (and she will thrive) and you will be telling the tale of the Evil Babysitter (who NEVER should have left the kids alone if she was supposed to be watching them and was paid to).
Kudos on this, a compelling tale with a good plot.:)
That super needs a well-placed kick to the brainpan.
I'm so sorry about what you're going through. You are a Fierce mama! And your daughter knows that.

Systems, beaurocracies, schools - hell, government - it all sucks, is inefficient and ill-equipped. Your daughter is thriving though, and will continue to do so. It'll be all right (cold comfort to standing cheese, I know!).
THIS JUST IN: my daughter's old school's gym is burning to the ground as I type this. I hope they don't think we're the one who did it after the stink we raised!
"When it comes to things like my kids, I’ll fight to the death and I don’t care who bleeds just as long as it’s not my kids. " - I so hear you, and that's one reason we independently pulled our kid out of a private school and are sending her to the local public school.

As far as the burning gym...karma's a bitch!
This is a terrible story; I'm really sorry. On the up side: I started high school at 11, and it all turned out fine. And hell, if she wants to go to prom, she'll have earned it - although I'd have her come home by 10...
What a dreadful experience for you and your daughter! OTOH, it seems that you and she have a really solid relationship and great communication, while your husband has both your backs, too, so you have the means to get through this together. Have you considered that this unfortunate circumstance has taken this awful woman and her daughter out of your lives? To have continued with such a pathetic person minding your child would ultimately only have been detrimental to you all. Your treatment by the local school department is appalling but karma is indeed inscrutably retributive! Kudos on how you're handling this and on a passionate, well-written post!
Changing schools is not the worst thing. Really. She could've been in 11th grade and made to change. That would be much worse.
I changed schools and it was very liberating. I'm not saying I WANTED to...I had to. And, it was great to start out fresh and new. I could be who I wanted to be and not who everyone expected me to be.

Kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for. As long as she's still in a gifted program (which really DOES matter for her well-being) she's going to be okay.

Take a deep breath. One battle at a time. Find somewhere nice to live that you all like. Be a loving family. Everything else will fall into place. I promise.

Sorry about your last home. That must have been hard.
I hate them all. Your babysitter is a cowardly mealy-mouthed bitch and the principal is a puffed up toad of a bureacrat unable to think for himself. He probably has Sarah Palin tattooed on his ass.
Sandra said it!
So--- you didn't explicitly say this but in your child's new district, the "gifted program" means that an 11 year old has to go to high school?

Ugh. I would hesitate to return to your old homestead because of the hassles from those administrators-- however, if the educational program is that superior and your daughter would do better in her old school program-- then consider buying a trailer and parking it on your old property until you can secure more permanent housing?

What is really a shame is that you are paying taxes within the district on your property.
Oh, nevermind my question. I see you answered it already in your follow up comment. Good luck to your daughter. I am sure she will have a great year.
Of all the annoying bureaucrats anywhere, school officials can be the most mindless. I hope your daughter is able to adjust where she is and can return to her old school soon.
I'm so sorry that happened to your family. I don't understand how one mother could do such a thing to another mother's child. What a real piece of work she must be. I hope that the new school turns out to be amazing and that in the end, it all works out for the best.
Hey, No Child Left Behind! Every child has an equal right, nay, responsibility, to go through the meat grinder!

I'm so sorry these smarmy jerks put your daughter through this. I do hope she thrives at the high school.
I hope that you consult with an attorney regarding this. School officials and employees are surprisingly ignorant of the laws, and this may be easy to clear up.
Great lines: "it seems that if someone knows someone somewhere I’m doomed and lately it seems like everyone knows everyone else. The cheese stands alone."

Your daughter will probably thrive in her new environment, especially with the support of parents like you and your husband.